Why kids don’t always come first when dating as a single parent

putting kids first in relationship woman with kids single mom

I meet most men that I date online. What do you look for when dating a man with kids?

It's very common for guys with kids to write in their dating profiles:

“My kids come first,”

or

“My daughter is the center of my world!”

I get where you're coming from.

You want a potential mate to know that your life includes the giant presence of a kid or four.

You also want women to know you're a devoted dad (it's no secret chicks get hot for guys who are great with kids!).

Got it. Roger!

Dating with kids

When it comes to relationships, I'm fond of saying, “You never really know what goes on between people.” 

But there are a few couples in my life who I look to as models of the kind of marriage I'd like one day.

People who really enjoy each other. Respect and support one another.

In these families, the parents put their relationship before the kids. They are the dynamic centriforce around which the family's life orbits. And everyone thrives as a result.

There is lots of research to suggest that a happy marriage is the cornerstone of well-adjusted kids.

Celebrity sex therapist Laura Berman, Ph.D., writes in her relationship guide, The Book of Love:

“No matter how sacrilegious it sounds, you need to put your relationship before your children. A strong relationship provides security for your children and demonstrates how a loving, respectful partnership should be. What could be more important?”

That's a tricky proposition for single parents. If you're not in a committed relationship, it is very easy to make your kids the prominent focus of your life.

After all, they can be so demanding — not to mention fulfilling.

Plus, if you've gone through a divorce or another crisis that landed you as a single parent, you are no doubt concerned about giving your kids extra care and sense of security.

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Challenges of dating a single parent

Do these statements ring true to you? …

“My boyfriend puts his child before me”

This is so common and can be a tricky situation. Especially early in the relationship, when you crave more time with your man, he prioritizes his children, and you feel left out.

“Dating a man with kids and feeling left out”

Perhaps he wants to mostly keep his kids separate from his romantic life, or his taking slower to blend his relationship with his home life. Or, maybe you expect more from the relationship than is healthy. Or, maybe you each want different things from the relationship.

Consider filling your own life with meaningful friendships, a career, hobbies and fitness. Perhaps your boyfriend will invite you into his homelife if you are less clingy. Or, you will each realize you want different things from the partnership and go your separate ways.

“Boyfriend not bonding with my child”

There are so many reasons why a boyfriend/girlfriend does not bond with the other partner's child. These include:

  • The child is jealous of the new partner
  • The partner is jealous of the child
  • Their personalities just don't jibe—just like two adults do not naturally get along, this can be true for a child-adult relationship, too.

Here are some tips:

  • Be patient. Once both the partner and child realize there is enough love to go around, everyone may calm down and connect
  • Find ways for your boyfriend or girlfriend to spend one-on-one time time together. Focus on everyday tasks (rather than big special outings or treats), like a grocery store run, washing the car, or cooking together. Once you remove yourself, they have a chance to create their own bond
  • Keep in mind that children go through phases they quickly grow out of, as do adults. Likewise, relationships have ups and downs and seasons.
  • Seek outside perspectives. Ask friends with blended families for advice, and ask them to watch how your new brood interacts — and be open to feedback. Consider therapy.

Best online therapy sites for 2020— Costs, free therapy, pros, cons

“My boyfriend's daughter is ruining our relationship”

Or, his kids start to manipulate him and have an upper hand in the family — and he lets him.

Men, just like moms, can feel the pressure to prioritize children above all else. Maybe he feels guilty that he is not with his child's mom, or that he left the relationship, or he wants to be a better father than his own dad.

Or, maybe he is using his child as an excuse not to get close to you. This may be a conscious decision — or it could be percolating at an unconscious level. We all have ways we sabotage relationships out of fear of intimacy.

Therapy can help — including couples therapy. Online counseling is increasingly popular since it is so affordable, convenient and anonymous. BetterHelp offers a free 7-day trial for unlimited text, video, email or phone sessions. Check out BetterHelp now >>

How do you date someone with a child?

Deeper information can be found to this question in these posts:

14 tips for men who want to date a single mom

Benefits of dating a single dad — and how to date a man with kids

Reasons not to date a man (or woman) with a kid

If you're considering being involved with a single parent, have a crush on one, or currently in a relationship with a single mom or single dad — but it's not working out, here is my message to you:

It's perfectly fine not to want to date a parent.

Some people prefer to date within their religion or people with certain physical attributes, or only people who own lime-green Lamborghinis. I'm not your therapist, and I'm not here to tell you how you are limiting your soul by adhering to a shortlist of dating must-haves.

If you are clear you don't want to date moms, then don't date them — and don't feel guilty about it.

If you thought you were open to that hot mom in your office, and genuinely tried to spend time with her and her baby, but learned that dynamic is not for you, then be kind and call it off sooner than later. As long as there was no malice, this is just the cost of the search for love — for both of you.

There are many reasons not to date someone with kids, and they don't really matter, though they can include:

  • You want someone who focuses on you first — always
  • You don't like kids
  • You don't like to spend a lot of time with other people's kids
  • Blended families are too hard
  • Your kids are grown and you're over the young-family phase of life
  • You're not sure why, but you just are not interested in dating someone with children from a previous relationship
  • The mom or dad is struggling with raising a teenager— who may hate your guts — and you're not emotionally invested enough to wait it out

What matters is that you seek and find what you want and need in romance, sex and love.

However, you may be totally open to dating a man or woman with children, but your boyfriend's (or girlfriend's) specific family situation prevents you from committing to your current relationship. These scenarios include:

“My kids come first”

If you want a serious, committed relationship, that relationship has to come first. If your partner makes clear that their children will always come before you, do not argue with them. Take that edict at face-value.

Do not tell yourself that being patient will change their mind, or that you can ingratiate yourself into their family in a way that will make you a priority. You will never be.

If you are the parent, and wear on your dating profiles, and proclaim to the world and potential dates that your children always come first, accept that that deep, meaningful, committed partnership that you crave will remain elusive.

No one suggests you should abandon your children for a partner.

But for a romantic relationship to thrive, that must be the nucleus around which your children orbit — and thrive.

Over-empowering children

It's no surprise that so many blended families struggle with adjusting all parties to a home where everyone is suddenly expected to revolve around the new relationship.

It can be so hard. Some find it impossible.

But it is even trickier if one or both of the parents put the kids before their partner.

One dad I went out with nearly boasted when telling me about a four-month relationship that went sour because his girlfriend did not understand why he'd abruptly leave in the middle of dinner because his tween son would call, upset about some matter with his hockey coach.

Another's girlfriend eventually broke up with him after several years because he rarely made time to spend alone with her, instead expecting constant family time with his son.

Ultimately, failure to put their partner first was a sign these guys were not ready for a serious relationship, or at least not with those particular women, and that is totally normal.

It's not cool to pay lip service to intentions of growing a serious, long-term relationship and from the onset demote your lover to second-rank — even before you message her on eHarmony's website.

Women are certainly guilty of making children the center of their whole lives — maybe even more so than men, especially since we are far more likely to be primary caregivers, and face cultural pressure to sacrifice for family.

But in this moment when men are struggling to claim their place as equal parents while society expects single dads to be the lackadaisical weekend father, I get why you are compelled to go overboard with your expressed devotion.

Dating with kids in the mix can be complicated. Messy.

Challenges of dating a single mom or single dad can include:

Is it worth it to date a man or woman with kids?

It can be. It can also cause trouble in the relationship and lead to a breakup.

But that is up to you.

If you are indeed ready for a real love, create a space for her or him. If it is a serious, committed, long-term relationship, the couple needs to be each other's No. 1 priority.

Stop putting kids first. Imagine a relationship that centers on the two of you, and all the stability and care your kids will take from that.

Accept that a truly wonderful relationship only multiplies the love available to your kids — not robs them of some of yours.

Because in those families, there is all the more love to go around.

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Great examples of couples who put their kids second in dating 

A couple years ago, a guy I went out with, read my blog before we went out, and mulled my opinions on putting your kids behind your romantic partner.

 Over cajun food, he described what sounds like a remarkably happy suburban childhood headed by parents who enjoyed a 40-year marriage, five kids, and two successful careers.

My date has only the fondest memories of watching his dad court his mom on their weekly date nights and annual parent-only vacations — in addition to the family road-trip.

Staying home with the babysitter was tons of fun. “My dad made it clear that his relationship with my mom was the center of everything, while he was also the best dad ever,” he said.

What could be a better example of the benefits of putting your romantic partner first?

What if you don't have a romantic interest to start with?

This Modern Love column in the New York Times (which I read religiously and am only slightly bitter about the fact the editor Daniel Jones has rejected more than a dozen of my submissions over the years BUT NEVERMIND!) highlighted an essay by Aylete Waldman about the fact that she puts her husband and their fantastic sex life above their four kids.

The most interesting thing about the essay was the resulting shitstorm of controversy which landed Waldman on a much-viewed Oprah episode during which a hostile audience nearly attacked her.

Yes, that essay is a decade old, but it warrants a revisit because parents — mothers most especially — are still expected to make our children the center of our worlds, and always put kids first. Waldman wrote:

I do love [my daughter]. But I'm not in love with her. Nor with her two brothers or sister. Yes, I have four children. Four children with whom I spend a good part of every day: bathing them, combing their hair, sitting with them while they do their homework, holding them while they weep their tragic tears. But I'm not in love with any of them. I am in love with my husband.

It is his face that inspires in me paroxysms of infatuated devotion. If a good mother is one who loves her child more than anyone else in the world, I am not a good mother. I am in fact a bad mother. I love my husband more than I love my children.

I love that Waldman challenges the institution that admonishes women for anything other than full-time adoration of their kids.

Waldman's work includes many of the points I've made here on this blog:

Many of you lapped up my essay about the fact that I don't live for my kids — and that is my biggest gift to them.

Putting kids before all else makes them neurotic and robs me of my potential to live the biggest, fullest life that I can — and model for my children that such a life is possible.

Putting kids first makes them neurotic and robs me of my potential to live the biggest, fullest life that I can — and model for my children that such a life is possible.

I've urged parents — single moms in particular — to prioritize their health above all else, including family time.

After all, you can't be an energetic mom now if you are overweight, and you are even more likely than single moms overall to burden your children in your old age if you don't care for your wellbeing now.

That despite my attempts to live said full life, I've found myself hugging my kids too much because I'm lonely — and that is entirely unfair to my son and daughter. Alas, I am only human.

I plan to read Waldman's essay collection, Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, which promises to dig into the societal pressure moms face to put their children into the laser-sharp focus of their universes.

Liberating music to my ears! 

But Waldman has a husband she is crazy about. I don't.

How do you start dating after divorce with kids?

How do you figure out how to put your man first if you don't have a man to start with?

In other words, how do you create space for a potential relationship when kids can be so all-consuming?

In the event you don't seek a romantic partner, where do you focus that energy if not on your children?

Cliche as it may sound: You gotta put yourself first.

That means taking care of your health. You must make it a top priority to hang out with other adults — girlfriends, dates, relatives, and friends.

It is not normal to spend all your time with children, nor make your offspring your primary emotional support.

And while you're at it, indulge in your instincts to have a fulfilling and profitable career — without any guilt whatsoever! — even though our culture tells you that stay-at-home mothers are better mothers.

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Dating with kids … How do you know when you’re ready to start?

If you are getting over a big breakup or divorce, and you are a single mom or dad, you may have a lot of questions and confusion around dating. After all, you likely have never dated as a parent. That is totally normal.

My general rule of thumb is this: Date when you want to date. Society tells you that mothers are virgins and dating steals precious time from child-rearing.

In fact, a happy mom who is fulfilled romantically, sexually and with a great companion — whether a serious partner, friend with benefits, lots of fun dates. Whatever your dating journey looks like, is the right journey.

Some quick rules, though:

  • Don't sneak men in while the kids are asleep.
  • Don't lie to the kids about dating.
  • Don't like to men you meet about the fact you're a single mom.
  • Don't move in with anyone anytime soon — or get pregnant, loan him money or otherwise do dumb shit.
  • Keep an open mind and be positive and hopeful. This not only frees you to enjoy a healthy, post-divorce romantic life, you also model healthy dating and sexuality for your children.

You may need to do some work to get over your divorce and sit with your loneliness before you can find that great guy. Here is more about my journey.

Takeaway

Give yourself permission to stop feeling guilty. 

Focus on research that finds that kids don't need nearly as much time with their parents as we think they do. 

A University of Maryland meta study of 34 papers found that after age 2, it makes literally zero difference how much time parents spent with their kids. In fact, researchers found that the pressure to spend so much quality time with children stresses moms out so much that it may actually make us worse parents than if we just focused our time on our relationships, health and making more money, and less on frontal-lobe development and deep connection with our children. That is right: We are spending TOO MUCH time with our children.

U.S. moms of 3-to-11-year-olds spend an average of 11 to 30 hours each week either fully engaged in activities with their kids, or nearby and accessible when needed. And for kids in their early teens, moms are there between 11 and 20 hours each week. On average, in 1975 moms spent just over 7 hours per week with their kids. We are spending more time with our children, yet feeling more guilty and stressed.

Want to date? Go for it — AND DON’T FEEL GUILTY!

Schedule one date per week — with guys from Tinder, your boyfriend or your husband (or, if your relationship permits — all three!) Get started today and read our Elite Singles review >>

Not into online dating apps? Consider a matchmaking service. Read: It's Just Lunch matchmaking service review

Need a sex life? NO GUILT FOR YOU – ONLY BOOTY!

Do what you have to do.

Need to hit the gym?

HIRE A SITTER AND DON’T LOOK BACK!

Looking forward to that business trip even though you have to leave the kids at home?

KILL IT!

I’m not worried you'll neglect the kids. If you are like the professional moms I know, the pendulum swings way in the other direction — and you’re far more likely to neglect yourself.

Dating someone new? When should single moms introduce a boyfriend to the kids?

Friends with benefits? 8 rules for single moms who have friends with benefits

About Emma Johnson

Wealthysinglemommy.com founder  Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist and author. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Emma's Top Single Mom Resources.

695 Comments

  1. Matthew on January 21, 2020 at 11:38 am

    I love my partner very much and would crawl over broken glass for her. She has 2 adult children from previous relashionship. I know she loves me too. She also suffers from ptsd. That’s not easy to deal with somtimes but It don’t matter I’m in for the long haul. I do everything I can on the limited budget I have. I do little things that she doesn’t seem to notice or care about which could be due to ptsd. Also her adult children seem to take presidency over our relashionship but I don’t think she means to push me aside. What should I do? I’ve spoken to her about it but I get shut down or the subject gets changed

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  3. Stacey on December 6, 2019 at 4:46 pm

    My partners son and him are very close
    Life was about them two before we met
    I have a daughter same age as his son
    I’m scared he has built a wall up around him and his son
    His son acts up so bad when we are around but is a little gem if I’m looking after him
    When his dad is around he acts up and needs attention
    I’m not sure what I can do
    I feel I can lose this man if his kid threatens to never come back
    He is only 7 but my partner has built his life around work and his son
    Nothing else
    He wants to move in together in 6months time
    Will this make things worse on his son? And him?

  4. Tracy on September 20, 2019 at 11:03 pm

    I am in a 3.5 year relationship with a guy who has 2 kids and I have 2 as well. We live 35 minutes apart and kids go to different schools. He has his kids every weekend, I have mine some days during the week and every other weekend. We get maybe 1 night alone a week, weekends are usually food-related. We have never been on a weekend away alone or on vacation alone without kids, in 3.5 years. He refuses to change his kid schedule, basically the schedule revolves around what his ex wants or needs for work. Our relationship is last on the priority list. He says “our time will come” when all the kids are out of school, which will be 7 more years. The writing appears to be on the wall here, am I right?

    • Tanya on October 4, 2019 at 8:00 pm

      Sit down and have a serious heart to heart with him….show him this article! This article opened my eyes right up! sometimes we do feel guilt or selfish but he needs to realize if he loves you he will need to prioritize your relationship!

    • Viktoriya on October 11, 2019 at 4:18 pm

      Would love to know how did heart to heart conversation go for you? Thanks.

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